St Kilda Pier, St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria © Josie Withers Photography, Visit Victoria
Cities, states and territories
Mainland Australia is the world’s largest island but also the smallest continent. The country is divided into six states and two territories.
What are Australia's cities, states and territories?
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) bounds the national capital of Canberra and is the centre of government. The Australian Capital Territory is located approximately 290 kilometres (180 miles) south of Sydney, and is home to a number of important national institutions, including Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery of Australia.
New South Wales
New South Wales (NSW) is Australia’s oldest and most-populous state. New South Wales was originally settled as a penal colony on the shores of Port Jackson where the bustling capital city of Sydney now stands. Sydney is the nation’s largest city and is renowned for its idyllic beaches, great walks and world-class dining. New South Wales is also home to popular attractions including the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley wine region.
At the top end of Australia lies the Northern Territory (NT). Darwin, on the northern coast, is the capital, and Alice Springs is the principal inland town. Alice Springs is the physical heart of Australia, almost exactly at the nation's geographical centre. The Northern Territory is home to the famous Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Park.
Queensland (QLD) is Australia’s second-largest state (in size) and is home to the world famous Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most extensive subtropical rainforest and the beautiful Queensland Islands – including the World Heritage-listed K’gari. Brisbane is the state’s capital; it enjoys more winter sunshine and warmth than most Australian cities and is perfect for outdoor activities and water sports.
South Australia (SA) sits in the southern central part of the country, and covers some of the most arid parts of the continent. The state’s capital is Adelaide and is a great base for exploring the Barossa wineries, the Flinders Ranges and Kangaroo Island. South Australia has a thriving arts scene and is known as the ‘Festival State’, with more than 500 events and festivals taking place there each year.
Tasmania (TAS) is separated from mainland Australia by the Bass Strait and is the smallest state in Australia. The capital, Hobart, was founded in 1804 as a penal colony, and is Australia's second oldest capital city after Sydney. One-fifth of Tasmania is covered by national parks and wilderness – abundant in driving routes and walking trails – and it is one of the world’s most mountainous islands.
Victoria (VIC) is the smallest of the mainland states in size but is home to the country’s second most populated city, Melbourne. Often referred to as the nation’s cultural capital, Melbourne is famed for its graffiti laneways, fashion-forward boutiques and booming café scene. Victorians' enthusiasm for sport is also legendary and this is where Australian Rules football began. The only thing more sacred than the footy is Melbournians love of coffee, and here you’ll find some of Australia’s best flat whites, cappuccinos and piccolo lattes.
Western Australia (WA) is Australia’s largest state and is a place of true contrasts: from desert in the east to 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) of pristine coastline on the west. The state’s capital is Perth; the fourth most populous city in Australia and famed for its uncrowded beaches, parklands and fresh seafood. Off the coast of Esperance, in the state’s south, is Middle Island, which is home to the extraordinary pink-coloured Lake Hillier.
Australia also administers Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (or Keeling) Islands, the Jervis Bay Territory, the Coral Sea Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island and the Australian Antarctic Territory (covering 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent) as external territories.